Giving Thanks is Good for the Soul (and the Confidence)
Halloween is over. If you’re like me, this inevitably brings a bit of a letdown in spirit, kind of like going home after a month-long convention! This can make it hard to focus on projects, which in turn can lead to the also-inevitable end-of-year depression where you look back and think about how you’re still not the award-winning, best-selling author you’d hoped to be. Or maybe your goals were smaller this year (Sell that novel! Get in that anthology!) and you didn’t achieve them all.
Combine that with the shorter days and you have a recipe for depression, which can result in a writing funk.
And that kind of funk is not the good kind.
Years ago, I came up with my own personal solution to this that helps me make it through those months when the hours of sunshine are at their lowest and my mental energy seems sapped by doubts and another year of life gone by.
I give thanks for where I am.
This might seem counter-intuitive, but taking a page from the Thanksgiving holiday can actually work. Here are some of the things I do:
- Give thanks for just being here. Every year has its turmoil. Death, poor health, injuries, money problems, relationship problems, work problems. These things can get you down in a hurry, especially if you’ve had one of those real crappy years where nothing seems to go right. But here’s the important thing: You are still here. You’re alive. You can make things better. It’s a proven scientific fact that positive thinking can influence positive results in life, and make you feel better about yourself. Even in our darkest hours, the fact that we have life, and a future that we can shape in a constructive way, is something to be thankful for.
- Give thanks that you’re still writing. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it. But unless you’ve tossed the pens and paper in the trash, given the computer to your nephew, and burned all your notebooks, you’re still a writer. Maybe you’ve hit a dead spot, maybe you’re fed up with the business. That’s okay. Just keep moving forward. Writing isn’t like school, or a 9-5 job. You don’t advance in an orderly fashion, get regular promotions, or get a bonus for completing a project.
With writing, you’re simply creating art and throwing it out into the world to see what happens. Getting acclaim or sales is equal parts skill, timing, and luck. Some people write for decades before they sell something. Others sell their first novel for a million bucks. The rest of us are in between, with varying degrees of success. And some just aren’t cut out for the heartache that comes with the hard work and rejections.
You’re still writing, which means you’re already strong enough to keep going. So pour another coffee or whiskey and know that you’re not facing anything that hasn’t temporarily crippled everyone from Stephen King to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- Give thanks for what you’ve already written. Back when I first started doing my post-Halloween thanks, I hadn’t published much. A novel and some short stories. I’d hit one of those lulls where for months on end nothing sells. My publisher had folded. Rejection letters were piling up (this is back when you actually got letters, and for some reason I kept saving them!), and I had a bunch of novels that I couldn’t get any publishers to look at. Quitting certainly crossed my mind.
But then something funny happened.
A story that had been accepted the previous year finally came out in print. When my contributor copy arrived, I read the story out of habit. And found myself completely engrossed by it. I couldn’t believe that was me who’d written those words, they were so damn good! Now, it sounds kind of egotistical to say that, but I don’t think there’s anyone in this business that doesn’t like what they write. I don’t mean those first drafts that make you want to puke. I’m talking the finished product, the one you send out to publishers. Hell, if you don’t like your own stuff you’re not writing from the heart.
So there I was, in love with this damn story, and I had two thoughts: One, why isn’t what I’m writing now this good? And two, if that kind of talent is in me, then sooner or later I’m going to get acceptances again.
And guess what? I did.
Over the years, these kinds of career dips and moments of insecurity have happened again and again. Writing is a fickle business for 99% of us. You never know what the next year will bring.
But whenever you start to feel like you suck as a writer, that you just can’t do this, go back and read the things you’ve had published. It’s like a shot of vitamin confidence booster in the arm.
- Give thanks for what you haven’t written. Or, more specifically, what hasn’t been published. You just read the item above? Well, those novels I’d written but couldn’t sell eventually did sell a couple of years later. They just had to find the right home. And two of the three ended up as awards finalist (a Bram Stoker Award® nom and a Thriller Award nom). Vindication! What a sweet thing it is.
So maybe your novel hasn’t sold yet. I still have one that hasn’t. Most everyone does. I certainly have dozens of short stories that haven’t sold. Some of them are pretty bad, and I don’t submit those anymore. Others are good—really good—and I know they’ll find a home someday. There’s no expiration date on stories.
The very fact that you’ve written them is something to be thankful for—you’ve already accomplished something tens of thousands of people fail at. You completed the story, the book. You’ve done your part; now the rest is up to fate, which you can’t control.
- Be thankful for everyone who helps you write. “No one helps me write! I do it alone!” you might be saying. But unless you live by yourself in a cave with zero interaction with the rest of the world, you’re wrong. Writers have, and need, strong support systems. If for some reason you don’t have one, that could be the reason you’re not achieving the goals you’ve set.
My support system is pretty obvious: My wife, who puts up with me writing and is my biggest supporter when it comes to marketing. My family, which supports every project by spreading the word. My beta reading group that looks over everything I write and points out all the problems I’ve missed. My publishers and their editing teams, artists, and marketing specialists.
And you can expand this list as well. The people who buy and read your books and tell their friends about them. The social media “friends” who follow you and share your promotional posts. The librarians who stock your books and have you come in for presentations.
Some of you have agents or managers. Some have spouses who earn all the money and carry the insurance just so you can stay home and write.
I’m thankful for everyone who makes it possible for me to do what I do.
And when I’m giving those thanks, and I think about how I haven’t achieved all my goals yet, I can always look back and be thankful for how far I’ve come, how much I’ve accomplished against the odds.
If you’re one of the people who is frowning now and saying, “But I haven’t come far. I haven’t beaten the odds at all, I’m not even published!,” don’t let that get you down. Because we were all there once. Keep at it, and it will happen.
This business is filled with ups and downs, valleys and peaks. Joyful highs and soul-crushing lows.
But in the end, I’m thankful just to be here writing this.
My short story, “The H Train,” is available now in Horror Library, Vol. 6, from Farolight Publishing. This is a great anthology with a strong mix of established and new writers.
I’ll also have the following short stories out later this year:
“Zero Hour” in C.H.U.D. Lives! from Crystal Lake Publishing (October 2017)
“The Gods of War” in SNAFU: Judgement Day from Cohesion Press (November 2017)
“Grave Secrets” in Tales from the Lake, Vol. 4, from Crystal Lake Publishing
“Eldritch Moon” in Ares Magazine
In other news, all of my formerly out-of-print novellas and novels are now available in hard copy and ebook, several of them with nifty new covers. There’s also an omnibus available, which contains seven novellas. You can find them all on my Amazon page, along with all my other titles.